After playing World of Warcraft for the first time at 13, I realized that voice communication was going to be a helpful tool for completing quests, socializing with other players, and adding a whole new dimension to the game.
It wasn’t easy convincing my parents to purchase a headset for me to talk to strangers online. I told them it would be easier than typing and would help me get more quests done by having my hands free to fight instead of type.
Turns out, my argument was convincing after all. After a few weeks of playing the game, I got a basic, $25 Logitech headset that looked like it belonged in a call center. I was ecstatic! I could finally chat with my two newest friends, Mojo and his son, when questing through Darkshore. It opened up a new world of human connection during my otherwise lonely childhood.
Soon, I grouped with a guild and joined their Ventrilo (an ancient predecessor of Discord) server. I regularly had people to chat with about in-game nonsense, IRL drama, and hopes and dreams. The possibilities with voice communication were seriously endless.
As I progressed in the game and reached max level, voice chat was particularly helpful for both player-versus-player (PvP) and player-versus-enemy (PvE) combat. When queuing up for a 2v2, 3v3, or battleground with a group of friends, I now had a way to communicate my real-time decisions to my teammates. I was able to call out my CC chains, cooldowns, and ask for help when needed!
I met people from all over the world. Some of them crossed my path temporarily, but some became long-term friends.
I even had an opportunity to meet one of my closest in-game friends while I was on vacation in Virginia. She lived nearby to where I was visiting, so we planned a meet-up and got to take selfies in our WoW t-shirts for our guild! As my first IRL meet-up, it was a wholesome and memorable experience.
All good things have a dark side. Unfortunately, things ended up getting weird in every way of the word when people found out I was a girl via voice chat. After playing for so many months and feeling at peace for finding this community, my feelings on voice chat shifted dramatically following some negative experiences.
It’s never clear who a person is behind their in-game character unless you speak with them or know them personally. When people finally made the connection that I was a girl both in-game and IRL from voice chat, I started getting treated differently. Typically, one of two things would happen once I spoke up in a new Ventrilo server, raid group, or duo match:
Whoa, a girl! Where do you live? Are you single? Are you hot? Can I buy you something to win your affection? Send me pics!
Ugh, a girl. Now we’re definitely going to lose this match.
These night and day reactions (problematic in their own unique ways) ultimately caused me to, most times, pretend that I didn’t have a microphone. I’d go back to typing in chat but listening to my teammates. Sometimes, people would get frustrated with me for not turning on my microphone, but it felt like my only choice at the time.
I felt like I had to hide the fact that I was a woman in any way possible, so I even changed the sex and name of my main character. I began playing primarily as a male character to (hopefully) signal that I was a guy IRL, too. Only some of my closest friends were in on “the secret”—those who I felt comfortable being myself around because they didn’t treat me any differently than the human I am.
Unfortunately, things got increasingly more toxic when I steered toward the League of Legends universe at age 17. When I decided to play competitively by joining active online communities and participating in tournaments, things got really sour. The stakes were higher here. With more frequency, I would face men who were upset with a woman on their team. Sometimes, other teammates would stick up for me, which was nice, but I always felt powerless to stick up for myself in these moments.
As such, I felt as if my performance was always being monitored and analyzed more than my male counterparts, and everything that went wrong in the game suddenly felt like it was all my fault. This was the first time I started to question my fit within this community.
The comments that were made to me after being exposed as a girl gamer had taken a toll on me that I was unaware of at the time. Looking back, the times I was treated negatively as a woman in gaming had a massive effect on my gaming performance and even my identity.
It was particularly difficult to find other girl gamers to relate to and talk with outside of my WoW pal, because from what I understand, they were hiding, too.
Hiding my identity as a woman online had negative impacts IRL. I had quickly become self-conscious of being a woman in this space, and it contributed to inhibiting me from reaching my potential on the playing field in terms of competition.
Climbing the ranks became unattainable to me in my mind, because I’m a girl and we “suck at games.” After being told something so many times by so many people, you begin to believe it.
Often, people are unaware of the impact that their words have on others. The takeaway of this piece is to be mindful of what you say to someone online, because you never know how it will affect them. There’s another human, just like you, on the other side of the screen. Being kind and inclusive costs nothing, it just makes our community stronger.
A Note from the Ritual Motion Team: If you have experienced the good, the bad and the ugly like Monica has, it’s important to talk about it. Our brand promotes inclusivity, diversity, and honesty and we encourage you to share your experiences via our platform so we can all learn from them together.